Healthcare Reform: Lobbyists Shape US Debate

On the heels of the article I published regarding objectionable behavior of elected officials during the healthcare debate (1), Robert Pear published an article in the NY Times (2) revealing that more than a dozen lawmakers had statements that were ghostwritten, in whole or in part, by Washington lobbyists working for Genentech, one of the world’s largest biotechnology companies.

What gave the matter away was that the language of so many statements placed into the Congressional Record matched up word for word.  Included in this group is Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC) of the infamous ‘You lie’ shout out to President Obama regarding healthcare before a joint session.  Representative Wilson’s written statement was identical to one made by Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO) and used language provided by lobbyists.  E-mails obtained by the Times showed that the firm wrote up talking points for both Democrats and Republicans.  The corporation estimates that 42 House members, 22 Republicans and 20 Democrats, picked up its talking points, an unusual bipartisan coup.

Genentech’s PAC and lobbyists in recent years have reportedly made campaign contributions to many House representatives, including those who filed statements in the Congressional Record.  And the firm’s employees have been among the hosts at fundraisers for some of those lawmakers.  The head of Genentech’s Washington office is reported as saying “There was no connection between the contributions and the statements”.  Does the man really expect us to believe that statement?

Amongst the issues I raised regarding the behavior of elected officials was the acceptance of large amounts of special interest monies, especially by those directly involved with the legislation.  Another was that voting patterns indicate little if any independent thinking by our elected officials.  As it turns out, we were not listening to the words of some of our lawmakers.  Rather we were listening to the words of an industry giant that was making contributions to, and assisting in fundraising efforts for, elected officials.

The involvement of special interests with our elected officials is no new matter.  There is the popularized incident involving Maine’s Senator, Owen Brewster being ‘in bed’ with Pan Am’s Juan Trippe during the post WWII era when the airline was attempting to secure a monopoly on international travel.  However, the healthcare debate involves something quite different; this debate directly affects American lives.  Studies have shown that reduced access to good care claims lives, i.e., studies indicate that about 120 US citizens (3), including 6 military veterans (4), are dying each day in this country because of business practices such as excluding individuals from coverage with pre-existing conditions, pricing citizens out of the market because of increasing premiums with age, etc.  The matter becomes a moral issue as the US has the world’s largest economy and yet is the only advanced nation that does not guarantee access to affordable healthcare for its citizens.

We have elected our public officials to represent the people and there is no place for special interest monies in this debate.  I personally want to hear the thoughts of our elected officials, not those of a corporation that has a vested interest in the outcome of the debate.

We should not be tolerating this behavior.

Reading and Sources

1.  The US Senate: It’s Just Not Healthcare That Needs Reform, Kamm blog posting, Nov. 13, 2009

2.  In House, Many Spoke With One Voice: Lobbyists’, Robert Pear, NY Times, Nov. 14, 2009

3.  Study Links 45,000 U.S. Deaths to Lack of Insurance, Reuters, Sept 17, 2009

4.  Lack of Health Care Killed 2,266 US Veterans Last Year: Study, Nov 11, 2009

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